this is the way we wash the clothes…

laundry tips from a fifty-something homeschooling mom

This is the way we wash our clothes,
Wash our clothes,
This is the way we wash our clothes,
So early Monday morning.
“Here We Go ’round the Mulberry Bush”

a guest post by my mom, Sara Louise

I don’t hang my clothes outside like my daughter Gretchen. As a young wife and mommy, I reached over the back fence and borrowed the neighbor’s clothesline, especially when I had blankets or other large items I wanted to dry outside. My husband always intended to build a clothesline for our own yard. But hay fever season coincided with hot sunny weather, and the pollens that accumulated on the line-dried sheets aggravated my allergies and became a perfect excuse to just use the electric dryer. this is the way we wash the clothes...

Most of my laundry tips were learned from my mom—the rest, after I became one! My worst laundry disaster occurred when I was in college and didn’t read the label in a favorite dress before I tossed it into one of the dorm’s washing machines. When the load was done, the shrunken dress looked like it would fit a 6-year-old! I’ve been a fastidious label reader ever since, and when it says “dry clean only,” I know why—especially when it is 100% rayon!

I wash and fold almost all the laundry instead of making my children do their own. Bad mothering, perhaps, but I like the satisfaction of being in control of at least one area of my home!   My mom did my laundry while I lived at home, and I loved watching her fold t-shirts and towels just so. Even more memorable was sitting at the kitchen counter watching her iron for hours—shirts, dresses, pillowcases, table linens. But that’s where I draw the line—we only iron handkerchiefs—and that is one laundry job I do delegate, to my daughter Jessica!

  • Treat a stain quickly before it has time to set in. Train your children to bring the stained garment to you rather than put it in the hamper or leave in the corner of their room. And when your children are old enough, teach them how to treat the stain themselves!
  • If you have sensitive skin (or even if you don’t), wear protective gloves while treating stains. Your hands will definitely appreciate it!
  • For fruit stains, bring a kettle of water to a boil, hold the garment taut over a pan or sink, and pour the boiling water slowly over the stained area, repeating until the stain begins to fade. Works best with two people, and be careful not to get burned, as the boiling water wicks quickly to the outer edges you are holding!
  • For blood stains, use cold (or lukewarm) water, along with a squirt of liquid hand soap, then some “knuckle grease” to scrub out the stain. Girls can get in the habit early of treating their own stains in the bathroom sink and hanging their unmentionables over their bath towel to air dry before putting in the laundry.
  • Grass stains require a good stain remover. I use Melaleuca’s PreSpot. Experiment to find what works for you. Dampen the spot first, cover with stain remover, scrub hard using your fingers/knuckles and rubbing the fabric against itself. Let sit a few minutes, rinse, and repeat (as many times as it takes to remove the stain).
  • Ball-point pen ink comes out best if you don’t use any water until after you have first dissolved the ink using cheap aerosol hairspray. Apply several times until the ink begins to disappear; then rinse with soapy water. I keep a travel size can in my laundry room cupboard.
  • Oil and grease stains, whether from the kitchen or garage, require a good quality degreaser. I’ve used Stanley products as well as Watkins. Select a degreaser concentrate, then pour over the greasy spots before you get the garment wet—otherwise the water will saturate the garment you won’t be able to find the oily spots (if they were from a clear oil rather than a black grease). After rubbing thoroughly, add a little bit of water to suds it up a bit and continue scrubbing until it looks like the grease is dislodging.
  • For older stains: body/hair oils on pillowcases, banana/baby food/breast milk stains on washcloths/bibs, hard-water discoloration on whites, etc. Bleach is a harsh chemical, but sometimes it is the only solution for dislodging stubborn stains. Always start with a large amount of water (full dish pan) and a small amount of bleach (2-4 Tbsp.) for soaking stained areas. You can decrease the quantity for fewer items, but be careful not to get the bleach mixture too concentrated or it can eat right through delicate fabric. Soak for just a few minutes and check to see the progress. If you are treating colored items, go very light on the bleach or it will cause fading! Likewise, wear old clothing when you use bleach to prevent splattering on your best jeans! And when you do use bleach in the washing machine, be sure to use an extra rinse cycle to rid the garments of any chemical residue.

Sorting/Washing

I use four laundry baskets, two dark and two light, to remind me which loads I’m doing. I then sort clothes by their label and color:

  1. dark cold load (bright colors, usually permanent press items)
  2. dark warm load (jeans, socks, t-shirts, towels)
  3. light cold load (this is also usually a delicate load with undergarments and shimmery fabrics)
  4. light warm load (lighter sheets & towels, socks, shirts, etc.—usually permanent press).

If my husband has been working with firewood or grease, I create an extra dirty load and throw in jeans, socks, shirts and rags that I don’t want to wash with “cleaner” clothes. I rarely use hot water unless there is lots of grease. Generally, I always use a cold water rinse. I find that the newer fabrics in athletic clothing need warm water and plenty of soap to get rid of the perspiration smell—sometimes even a pre-scrubbing helps!

Folding

I have found it easiest to fold clothes in the laundry room (if you have one) to prevent a tsunami on the living room couch or in the master bedroom. I stack the folded piles on the washer and dryer according to each family member; then I deliver to their rooms for each child to put away. However, if you are teaching your children to help with the folding, you will need to bring it down to their level. Ideally, fold each load as it is done and it will feel less overwhelming! If you have a clothesline, you can even fold directly into the laundry basket as you take each item off the line (training your toddlers not to disrupt your folded piles)!

Drying/Ironing

I do everything I can to prevent the need to iron! The best tip I ever received for permanent press items was to toss between 2-4 shirts/garments at a time in the dryer for between 8-12 minutes to release the wrinkles; then remove them and hang immediately where they can air dry the rest of the way. Most of the wrinkles will hang out, and if any are left, it will require minimal ironing. For most of my shimmery tops and other delicate items, I simply hang up straight from the washing machine. This is much kinder to the fabric!

This is the way we iron our clothes,
Iron our clothes,
This is the way we iron our clothes,
So early Tuesday morning.
“Here We Go ’round the Mulberry Bush”

What to keep in the laundry room:

Free & Clear type detergent (easier on everyone’s skin), bleach (using only when necessary), degreaser, spot remover, hairspray, liquid soap, wash basin, scissors (for snipping stray threads as you see them), stackable laundry baskets, ironing board, iron & spray bottle, basket for smaller items to be ironed, hangers for permanent press items to be hung, drying rack/rod, clothespins, laundry marker for labels to identify owners of similar garments, zippered mesh bag for washing delicate items like pantyhose or keeping infant socks together, large terry cloth towel for rolling up hand washed items (bras, support hose) to remove excess water.

What I don’t have in my laundry room:

Dryer sheets. It took me quite some time to realize that the scattered oily spots on my husband’s darker dress shirts were not the result of his deodorant or food spills; rather they were residue from dryer sheets! And two items that I probably should add to my laundry room shelves, vinegar and baking soda—I hear they work wonders for making your laundry fresh and bright!

How to keep up on the laundry?

For moms with young children, it is never ending and may require multiple loads per day. For the empty nester, once a week may be sufficient. I recommend having a hamper in each bathroom (or bedroom) so dirty clothes can get tossed in at bath/shower/bed time. Just make sure the family knows not to put damp towels/washcloths in the hamper or you’ll end up with mildew growing on your clothes! Have your baskets always ready for sorting, empty your hampers routinely (daily, every other day, or once a week), and do your laundry on a regular basis to avoid those dreaded words: “Mom, I’m out of underwear!”

What’s the best laundry tip you’ve learned along the way?

This is the way we mend our clothes,
Mend our clothes,
This is the way we mend our clothes,
So early Thursday morning.
“Here We Go ’round the Mulberry Bush”

Sara Louise has been doing laundry for her husband and four children for over thirty years, along with homeschooling and teaching Creative Memories photo solutions classes.  She still does laundry for her married children and grandchildren when they come back home to visit.

(Photo by Jessica Elisabeth of a water-damaged print Sara Louise rescued from the basement laundry room in her dorm at college…it has hung above her laundry room sink ever since!)

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2 Comments

  1. Loved reading your tips! Not sure what my best laundry tip is. Perhaps cutting dryer sheets in half to make them last longer, plus you don’t have an overabundance of their stuff in the dryer.

  2. Love these memories and tips!

    One of my worst laundry fiascos happened during my year at college- I accidentally washed a beautiful WOOL sweater. It seriously could have fit a doll when I took it out of the wash machine!

    I love Prespot and use it all the time. It has saved many an article worn by a messy child! 馃檪